All I could hear was my baby crying.
I started to run, not caring anymore if I was caught or thrown in jail. My instinct was to get to her before anyone else heard. But I was too late—the security guard already had her in his arms. I skidded to a halt on one side of the checkouts as he stared at me from just outside the restroom, the door closing behind him. “Hey, you!”
He looked from me to the baby, puzzlement on his face. God, his eyes. They glowed.
My heart rate spiked as the decision to fight or flee pulsed within me. What do I do? My baby needed me.
The security guard stepped forward an inch, the beam of his flashlight slowly rising to my face.
“Don’t come any closer!” I yelled, panic rising in my throat.
He halted his advance. “I don’t know what you think you are doing, but you best come with me.”
Dread soared, making me feel like I was going to be sick. If I went with him, gave myself up and allowed myself to get caught, I’d be spending god knows how many nights behind bars. But I had to get to her.
My legs were tired from their day’s travel, but I could and would still run. Send him on a merry chase around the store… lose him in the aisles and sneak back to Ava, for surely he would have to put her down to chase me. I nodded to myself, knowing what I had to do, but he seemed to take that as me giving up. He came closer again, stepping away from the restroom door. “Good, you made the right choice, come on. Let’s get this over with, shall we? What’s your name?”
“Fat chance of that!” I said and bolted down the snack aisle back the way I’d came.
“Goddamit!” I heard him yell from behind, and unable to know for sure if he was following—I wasn’t going to take the chance to find out—I kept running, abandoning my food and lantern along the way. My worn-out sneakers squeaked as I turned into the next aisle, never keeping to the same one for very long. Once I thought I’d gone far enough, I stopped dead still. My lungs burned, but I forced myself to breathe slowly, trying not to give my position away. I closed my eyes and let the sounds of the store prickle into focus.
Everything was quiet.
Ava had stopped crying, I thought with a start, my eyes springing open. The most horrible things crashed through my mind like a storming rhino. What had he done to her?!
I quickly but quietly hurried back to the front, edging along until the restroom door came into view. I was about thirty meters away, but even with the gloom of the store I could see no one.
Ten, nine, eight… I counted down, preparing myself to launch to where I’d last seen him with Ava, grab her, and run for it. The guy looked big, and he’d obviously not chased me before, so perhaps he would be too slow to stop and catch me now. I rocked back on my heels at the count of two just as he emerged from the right. He stood silhouetted in front of the glass doors.
“Come on, I know you’re there. Out you come. This is silly. You’ve got nowhere to run to; you won’t leave your baby behind. And I’m not going to hurt you.”
My throat thickened, the lump almost constricting my airway it felt so big. Could I trust him? My instincts were telling me yes, but with everything on the line I didn’t feel like I could chance it.
“What will…” I started, my voice croaky and small. “What will you do to me if I do what you say?” I stepped around the end of the aisle and faced him, willing myself to be brave.
Then I saw her in his arms, waving her chubby arms about like she didn’t have a care in the world.
Like she belonged there.
Father Shiftmas is exclusive to our Christmas anthology, Bundle of Joy.